Pope Francis uses pulpit to condemn human trafficking

(Photo: L'Ossevatore Romano)Pope Francis washes the foot of a young man at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention center in Rome on Thursday, March 28, 2013.

Pope Francis is using his pulpit to speak out strongly against human trafficking. On two occasions last week the pontiff took aim at those involved in the trade.

The pontiff called human trafficking a "disgrace" in comments he made to the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, the Catholic News Service (CNS) has reported. The group held an assembly at the Vatican on May 24.

Its focus was on the rights of refugees and displaced persons.

Pope Francis said that these types of people are especially exposed to "the plague of human trafficking, which increasingly involves children subjected to the worst forms of exploitation and even recruitment into armed conflicts."

The Pope said that "exploiters and clients at every level must make a serious examination before themselves and before God."

On Sunday Francis castigated the Mafia for its role in human trafficking in comments he made regarding a martyred priest who was beatified in a ceremony the day before.

He honored Don Giuseppe Puglisi, who was killed by the Sicilian mafia in 1993 for speaking out against them.

"Don Puglisi was an exemplary priest, especially dedicated to pastoral work with young people", said Pope Francis, according to the Vatican Information Service (VIS).

"Teaching them according to the Gospel, he snatched them away from a life of crime."

"I think of the sufferings of the men, women, and even of children, who are exploited by the different mafias, who exploit them by forcing into work that makes them slaves, with prostitution, and with many societal pressures. The mafias are behind this exploitation and slavery."

Pope Francis has been speaking out against human trafficking since he arose to the papacy in March. Two weeks after his election, the Argentine-born pontiff denounced the greed behind human trafficking during his Easter mass.

In his remarks, he called human trafficking the most extensive form of slavery in the 21st century, according to America's National Public Radio.

The Pope again referred to the greed of those involved in human trafficking last week. He said, "In a world that talks so much about rights, the only thing that seems to have them is money."

The comments echoed remarks Pope Francis made recently in a major speech on finance. In his comments, he decried what he called the "cult of money".

Even before his papacy, the then Cardinal Jorge Mario Begoglio was active in opposing human trafficking in Argentina, according to the Miami Herald.

He worked with Fundacion Alameda, a charitable organization which rescues prostitutes and sweatshop workers.

Herald reporter Jim Wyss wrote in March that Alemeda staff said Bergoglio would often would come in the "dead of night to help women escaping violent brothel owners find shelter."

He also supported whistleblowers who said that police were involved in the sex trade.

Wyss noted that in 2011 the cardinal held a mass in front of a sweatshop that had burned down five years before. Several people were killed.

Bergoglio rebuked the justice system for not prosecuting the people involved. Foreshadowing his assault on greed as pope, he also said at that time that money was behind the failure to press charges.

"In this Buenos Aires, which is so vain and proud, we still have slaves," said Bergoglio at the sidewalk mass. "Everything can be fixed in Buenos Aires with a bribe."

"We're bribing our souls, and bribes cover everything."

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